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“In the next few days, I will announce who I recommend as the next senator to replace Miss Baptiste.” — Eustace

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Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace (File photo by Oris Robinson).

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace on Monday defended his decision to fire Anesia Baptiste from the senate, saying her decision not to abide by the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) policy of not making adverse comments about citizens’ religions was unacceptable.

“All we wanted to do was protect our party from the adverse results that could come from attacking anybody’s religion and I stand by that,” Eustace said during his weekly appearance on the NDP’s radio programme.

And while he did not say so explicitly, Eustace suggested that the NDP would not accept Baptiste as a candidate for future elections unless she changes her position.

“… as president of this party, and I would expect that any president of any organisation, when a member tells you that they will not obey, or agree with, or support any decision taken which we think is in the interest of the party — not to condemn any particular religion — then they can’t be candidates going forward, because they are not going to follow the rules of the party,” Eustace said.

The NDP’s West St. George constituency council last November unanimously selected Baptiste as the party’s candidate for that constituency in the next general election — constitutionally due in 2015.

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“And certainly, I was not prepared to take the chance of having statements made in the … Parliament, on this matter because she has said clearly that she will not follow or obey and she takes her instructions only from God,” said Eustace of Baptiste, who said in a 11-page, 5,000-word letter to him “… you, Mr. Eustace, are not and will not be allowed to play God to me”.

Eustace said that of the 18 people who attended the NDP Strategy Committee meeting last Tuesday, Baptiste was the only one who objected to the policy.

“So Miss Baptiste takes it upon herself that only she alone and her position in relation to this matter is the correct one,” he said.

The discussion about the NDP’s position on religion grew out of statements Shefflorn Ballantyne — a potential NDP candidate for North Windward — made on a radio programme on April 7 about the Catholic Church.

Ballantyne — who along with Baptiste are members of the Thusian Institute for Religious Freedom Inc. — accused Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of being hypocritical in comments he made about a religious group, which some citizens have described as a “cult”.

Ballantyne said that Gonsalves should also condemn the Catholic Church, because it has similar belief as the religious group.

Eustace was disturbed by Ballantyne’s comments and asked him to explain them.

Ballantyne, according to Eustace, said that he did not call the Catholic Church a cult but had said that Gonsalves was hypocritical in his comments.

Eustace, however, was still unsatisfied with Ballantyne’s comments and told him that if he is a potential candidate for the NDP and the issue becomes public, he might have to apologise.

“I don’t think he was too pleased with that,” Eustace said of his conversation with Ballantyne.

He said that a few days later, two Catholic constituents of West St. George telephoned expressing concern about Ballantyne’s statement.

Eustace then telephoned Baptiste about the constituents’ concerns.

“… that conversation did not go well at all,” Eustace said, adding that while he would not comment “too much” about the exchange, “It only heightened my concern on this matter of how we, as a political party, should react on matters of this sort.”

At the meeting of the NDP’s Strategy Committee, — which comprises parliamentarians, members of the executive, and past NDP parliamentarians — Eustace raised his “concern about attacks being made against churches”.

He said he told the meeting that candidates, in particular, should avoid making adverse statements about religious groups.

“In every constituency in this country, there are people of all sorts, all types, of religion. They have their right to their views and it is not for the New Democratic Party or its candidates to condemn any church and, therefore, I wanted that accepted,” Eustace said of his proposal at the meeting.

According to Eustace, he received an email from Baptiste Wednesday morning in which she “clearly set out her objection to the decision we had arrived at and went much further in terms of her condemnation of the decision, including some insulting language aimed at me personally and maybe some other members…”

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Former senator Anesia Baptiste (Photo: Oris Robinson).

Eustace held a meeting of senior members of the NDP to discuss the development Wednesday afternoon.

“I indicated to them that I would not be able to accept the contents of the letter which was sent to me and as far as it relates to the question of the decision we took the day before … not to condemn any particular church.”

Eustace read from the April 17 letter in which Baptiste outlined her objection to the policy and raised other concerns — including about the public behaviour of a senior member of the NDP with a woman who is not his wife and a potential candidate and his female partner.

“All we are saying is that we don’t want any adverse comments to be made publicly by persons who are candidates for general elections in St. Vincent, representing the New Democratic Party, … about people’s religion. And I stand by that,” Eustace said in reiterating the policy decision taken on Tuesday.

After the talks with the senior members of the NDP Wednesday afternoon, Eustace instructed Governor General Sir Frederick Ballantyne to revoke Baptiste’s senatorial appointment.

On Friday, according to Eustace, his secretary informed Baptiste, sometime after 9 a.m. — by telephone and Facebook — that there was a letter at the NDP headquarters for her.

In the meantime, the Governor General’s office had also written to Baptiste and sent the letter to the NDP headquarters but also called her home to inform her that the letter was there.

Eustace said the letter was not collected until 3 p.m. Friday, four hours after he read on radio his letter to the Governor General requesting the revocation of Baptiste’s appointment.

“As president of the New Democratic Party, I have taken a decision of writing the governor General and seeking Miss Baptiste’s removal as a senator, forthwith. The Governor General has done just that in his own letter to her, which he has copied to the Prime Minister, to the Speaker of the House, and to the Clerk of the House of Assembly,” Eustace said.

“I stand by that (decision). In the next few days, I will announce who I recommend as the next senator to replace Miss Baptiste,” Eustace said.

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